A new analysis of the Syrian civil war alleges Iran has been deeply involved in the fight against those opposed to the Damascus government, propping up the Assad regime with money and weapons, and sending top intelligence officers to help coordinate the dictator's hold on power.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel described the crisis on Thursday as "not a static situation. There are a lot of players involved." The topic came up with each of Hagel's hosts during his five-country tour of the Middle East last week.
This list of players involved extends to countries with a more subversive role which, even in the event of an overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, would maintain a nefarious presence.
A new study from the Institute of the Study of War outlines the involvement of Iran in the ongoing Syrian strife. As close allies, Iran relies on Syria and its regime under Assad to act as a buffer for interference from neighboring Israel.
The report points to the February assassination in Syria of Gen. Hassan Shateri, a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force – news that received little coverage, the report says – as evidence of the ongoing shadow war between Israel and Iran and its allies.
"Syria has historically been an independent ally of the Islamic Republic, and the interests of these two allies have sometimes diverged. The regime's deepening dependence on Iranian support, however, has made Assad increasingly beholden to Tehran," the report states.
The connection between the two governments is so intertwined, that even if the Syrian regime were to fall, Iranian agents could likely establish pockets of loyalist forces throughout the country. These continual operations, likely based out of Syria's central and coastal regions, could still wage strikes against a burgeoning opposition government.
This subversive campaign is starkly contrasted against Iran's public presence. Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian says any reforms in Syria are internal affairs.
"Neither Iran, nor our friends in the region or any other country in the world can decide for the Syrian people," he said this week, reports UPI.
The Iranian semi-official news agency Fars reported on Wednesday that the U.S. and Israel had already drawn up a scenario for an air-ground campaign in Syria.
"The FSA forces are due to fight alongside the Israeli forces against the Syrian army armored units on Damascus-Dara road," Fars reported, according to anonymous "informed sources." "Israel will try to occupy Golan and Dara and then block the possible movement of the Lebanese Hezbollah group in al-Baqa'."
Despite renewed rhetoric from President Barack Obama on the ongoing crisis in Syria – which has claimed the lives of as many as 80,000 – the U.S. and its allies remain tight-lipped about future action.
"We must continue to look at options and present those options based on all contingencies with the focus that we have in the international community to achieve the objectives the best way we can," Hagel said Thursday, while speaking at a joint press conference at the Pentagon with his British counterpart, Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond.
Hagel said he is now considering arming opposition rebels.
"You look at and rethink all options," he said. "That doesn't mean you do, or you will."
"These are options that must be considered with partners, with the international community – what is possible, what can help accomplish these objectives."